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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Dust and Sand – Chapter 32 – By Sean P. Wallace

“It has. The Wanted Man lives. And he probably has Penelope. Your agent in Crucifix is also dead as a result.”

Her father looked around, confirmed he was alone, then roared “What in the name of Omnis happened? What? How could you possible mess this one up? After all the steps we took, after all the planning and the care, what did you do?!”

She would not let tears form in her eyes, would not have her cheek twitching as it wanted; this was how her Father would talk to any of his men if they’d failed him and she hadn’t wanted to be treated differently. The hurt caused by her own papa talking to her like she was a useless bitch would have to go ignored.

“It looks… It looks as though the Wastrels were unable to keep the Wanted Man restrained. He escaped with the help of an Indian warrior and saved Penelope Chalmers, presumably before she fully became a ‘Vessel’.”

“And what did you do about this?”

Eleanor checked her surroundings, aware that she’d been concentrating heavily on the communication spell, but saw no predators following her. “I escaped, as per the plan! Their Faustian should have had the battle in hand so-”

“Daughter,” her father said, raising a hand. “Please do not tell me that you saw Dust, the Wanted Man, the being we specifically wanted to ensure was dead, had enough strength to engage in a fight and you still left the cult of that wasted whore god to deal with him?”

What was she supposed to say to that? What could she say? The plan had been laid out and she had followed it to the letter. “I- Well, that is… The plan…”

He sighed, a weary sound that cut worse than his anger. “You did the right thing in calling me. That much I can appreciate. But you have failed me with dogmatic adherence. Worse than that, you have failed Omnis. This shouldn’t have been a complex plan, Eleanor; Omnis has a great many schemes with far more subtleties and variables in play every day. I thought we had made this very clear, foolproof even… but I was wrong.”

Eleanor decided she did want to be treated differently. It was time to pull a cheap move, tug at his heart-strings as she had since she was a child. “Please, Daddy, forgive me… Find it in you to forgive your little girl.”

His eyes gained a paternal grace then, a forgiveness and love that gave her hope. “My dear daughter, you are not wholly to blame. I must declare, I too made a mistake in the execution of this plan; I should have seen you weren’t quite ready for such an important task.”

Eleanor clasped her hands to her chest. “Then you will forgive me?”

He looked down slightly. Eleanor noticed how tired and old he looked. This news had not served him well. His shoulders started moving, as though he were doing something outside of the spell’s view.

“Daddy?”

He winced but kept doing whatever he was doing. “This is hard for me, Eleanor. You know that I am a family man, that I loved your mother dearly and love you just as much. I would never want to be seen as being cruel or a poor father…”

Then he looked up. “But you wanted to join the family business, the world of Omnis and our little tendrils all across these fine United States. You asked me to not treat you with any kindness, as though you were any of my other employees. Is that not right, daughter of mine?”

“No, Daddy, wait-”

“Did you not ask me to treat you as I would anybody else?” he hissed, shoulders still moving rhythmically. She guessed he would have shouted if he weren’t wanting to avoid bringing attention to himself.

She nodded. It was all she could do.

“Exactly. There now, all done,” he said with a satisfied nod. Leaning forward, he blew on something. The sound of wafting paper came across the spell, her rustling doom. “Well, I never could deny you anything, could I, Eleanor, my little bookworm? So I brought you in. I introduced you to the true god of this world. And I never once treated you like you were my little girl.”

Eleanor shot her hand into the portal and tried to dispel its magic. But her father reached forward first and somehow took control of the spell, changed its source, and it repelled her as an intruder. Her hand shook violently. There was no way of escaping this now.

“No, daughter, I’m afraid there’s no escaping this. You asked and you shall receive.”

He held a piece of paper over the spell, covering his tired face. On it he had inked the symbol she’d tried to avoid; a jagged drawing of a humanoid creature with a bulbous head, two great rending claws at the end of spindly arms and no torso below the waist. Around the sketch were sigils and runes, the framework of a spell. This was a curse, her father’s own invention, one she had seen used many times to eliminate those who had wasted Omnis’ time and resources.

“No, Daddy, no!”

The drawing burned away as the curse was consumed. Her father’s face appeared through the withering paper, thin and a little emotional. “I would say that I’m sorry, Eleanor, but you knew what you were getting yourself in for. And wasting knowledge is the greatest sin against Omnis. Goodbye, my daughter.”

The messaging spell disappeared, leaving Eleanor to look at the Badlands once more. Where once she had found relative comfort, now she felt fear in every peak, horror at every twisted plant or unseen road. The curse was out there, coming for her.

She quickly debated her options; she could flee, find somewhere to fortify against the curse until she could work out how to undo it… or she could turn back to Crucifix and ask for Dust’s help. Neither one was appealing. But if it were a choice between facing the wrath of the Wanted Man and sitting alone in a cave for the next few weeks, she knew which she’d rather-

Her thoughts were interrupted when a serrated claw shot through her shoulder and burst from the front of her chest. It was covered in her blood. She looked down and the agony, the cold shock and horror, of a major wound mastered her; her shoulders slumped, her nerves wailed and she coughed blood down her front.

She looked behind her with the last of her strength and saw the creature in her father’s curse, a floating engine of death. It’d come far more quickly than she’d thought possible.

Her father was an amazing mage.

Her horse screamed and charged away, filling her ears with its pounding hooves and leaving her to dangle from the curse’s claw. The curse’s wide, yellow teeth were like arrow-heads as it gave her a great smile. Then it pierced her with the other claw and tore her in half with one swift movement.

The top half of her torso fell to the floor. She landed face-down. The Badlands’ dust filled her vision as she died and her final act was to smile; the irony was not lost on her.

SeanPWallace
SeanPWallace
Sean is an editor, writer, and podcast host at Geek Pride, as well as a novelist. His self-published works can be found at all good eBook stores.

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